PM sets up panel to probe Antrix-Devas satellite deal

PM sets up panel to probe Antrix-Devas satellite deal

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up a two-member committee to investigate the satellite deal between Antrix Corp. Ltd, the commercial arm of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd involving transponders and S-band spectrum.

Singh’s move came as K. Radhakrishnan, Isro chairman and secretary, department of space, was asked to brief the cabinet on the agreement Antrix had signed with Devas, a private company floated by former Isro officials.

During the meeting, cabinet ministers and senior Congress leaders Vayalar Ravi and Kapil Sibal had raised the issue, according to a person who attended the meeting on condition of anonymity. The ministers questioned why there was no inquiry into the contract even after questions had been raised in 2009. They also sought explanations on whether the department concerned had probed Devas’ US connections.

Radhakrishnan circulated a two-page note among the ministers on the agreement with Devas, which the Space Commission had recommended should be scrapped in July last year, according to PTI.

The two-member committee of B.K. Chaturvedi, Planning Commission member, and Roddam Narsimha, Space Commission member, will review various aspects of the agreement and has a month to complete its report. It has been asked to review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement as well as suggest improvements.

Separately, Devas said it had a legally binding agreement with Isro, dated 28 January 2005, and that it had obtained all the requisite approvals from the government, including the Space Commission and the Union cabinet.

“The same were confirmed to us by Antrix in February 2006," Ramachandran Viswanathan, president and chief executive officer, Devas Multimedia, said in an emailed statement on Thursday.

The firm also said that it was still waiting for Antrix to meet its commitments.

“Devas has fulfilled all of its obligations in respect of the agreement over the past six years and now awaits the delivery of the contracted space segment capacity, which is more than two years delayed per the agreement," Viswanathan said.

In a second release, Devas said it had not been informed by department of space, Isro or Antrix as of 8 February 2011, that the agreement was under review since 8 December 2009. It is yet to receive any official notice to this effect, Devas said.

The Prime Minister’s Office had denied reports alleging a loss to the exchequer due to the deal, saying no decision had been taken and, hence, the accusations were without basis.

On Tuesday, Isro chief Radhakrishnan said that details about the contract that gave Devas rights to 90% usage of transponders on two satellites were not shared with the Space Commission or the Union cabinet. Isro doesn’t lease out the spectrum, but the transponders that use the S-band frequencies, he said.

The commercial agreement between Antrix and Devas was in the process of being terminated as, after the deal was signed, national “strategic and social" priorities gained predominance, he said at the time.

The deal involved Isro leasing transponders using the S-band (2.5-5GHz) on two satellites—GSAT6 and GSAT6A—to be launched by the space agency by 2013. Devas was to use these transponders for multimedia broadcasting purposes using a technology, which Radhakrishnan described as “extremely innovative".

Devas is a private firm headed by M.G. Chandrasekhar, a former scientific secretary at Isro. Deutsche Telekom AG is a minority shareholder in Devas.

While recommending that the contract between Antrix and Devas Multimedia be annulled, the Space Commission had recommended in July 2010 that the department of space review the working of the Isro unit and restructure it appropriately.

On Monday, The Hindu Business Line newspaper reported that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the government’s auditor, was looking into the 2005 agreement between Isro and Devas. The agreement, the newspaper reported, gave Devas 70MHz of spectrum in the S-band for roughly Rs2,000 crore. In comparison, the Union government got nearly Rs67,000 crore by auctioning 15MHz of air waves for third-generation (3G) mobile communication services.

Antrix aims to promote space products and facilitate transfer of technology developed by Isro as well as enable development of space-related industrial capabilities in India.